Corpo Aero Italiano - The Italian Contribution

The Italian contribution

"A large force of Italian bombers raided London (sic) during the night. They have returned bearing the marks of combat, but with the glorious certainty of great victory"

Rather optimistic Italian press report on Harwich raid, 25 October 1940

Mussolini brought Italy into the war in June 1940. Convinced of an Axis victory and not wishing to miss out on the spoils of war he ordered the Italian Air Force - Regia Aeronautica - to form an air expeditionary force, the Corpo Aereo Italiano/Italian Air Corps (CAI) - composed of three Stormi- Wings- some 200 aircraft - to operate against the United Kingdom in support of an unenthusiastic Luftwaffe from bases at Melsbroek, Chievres, Maldeghem and Ursel in Belgium.

CAI operations began at the close of the Battle of Britain, with an unsuccessful night raid around Harwich on 24 October 1940, with the first daylight mission, bombing Deal, on 29 October, and a unopposed fighter sweep over Canterbury on 1 November.

Offensive fighter sweeps along the channel continued until 28 November 1940 and mainly night bomber raids on Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Ipswich and Harwich until 7 February 1941, with defensive/patrol fighter sorties continuing until the same month, the CAI CR42s and BR20s then returned to Italy, although two squadrons of G.50bis aircraft remained in Belgium until April 1941 on local coastal patrols.

Despite numerous claims, the CAI shot down no British aircraft but lost two dozen in a relatively ineffectual campaign that caused little damage having suffered from limited experience and training, using outdated aircraft and tactics.